Non-Flash Links At Bottom Of Page

Malik (8/14/07)

No post yesterday.  That should be pretty obvious by the menu directly above this post (which would be post filled if I posted yesterday).  For once I wasn't lazy or lacking anything to say.  Rather, I was on my first non-weekend day of my giant vacation.  So, naturally, I spent most of my day living it up by getting some help from my dad to fix a slow drain, install a new light in my kitchen, and discuss methods to improve and modernize my home.  Yeah...not exactly how I dreamed of spending time this vacation.  Just like how I don't enjoy my plans for tomorrow; to wait around until the windshield replacement people arrive and fix my car's windshield.  On the bright side, it's all through my insurance, so I can have the home replacement thing with no additional costs (since it's all the same deductible), but they have a worse window of when they will arrive than Comcast (sometime between 10AM and 6PM).

Anyway, I do have game related stuff going on, for once.  On one hand, I finally turned on my consoles.  I have not used any consoles (except for one night of GH2 a week and a half ago) for a few months.  My only gaming choices lately have been my DS (Picross DS) and my PC (Oblivion, Civ 4).  So, my 360 and Wii have been neglected in a sense.  However, they were nice enough to reward me for showing them some attention after such a long hiatus.

On one hand, the Wii didn't give me too much.  I guess it's because I spend so much time with my DS, so Nintendo has less to win over from me (they have my loyalty already).  So, there was the couple of updates.  I really don't care how the shop channel is arranged since I don't want to keep spending much money on games I already own.  I also don't care if the top two headlines for the daily news and a clock are on my main channel menu.  I also don't give a shit about a single symbol showing me what the weather is on the same menu, since I have something I like to call a window.  Maybe if the weather icon would show the high and low for the day, I could find myself caring.  However, if Nintendo is only going to offer me a glimpse of a sun while a bunch of sunlight is flooding my game room, then I really don't give a shit.  If a moon is shown when not much outside light is entering my game room, I think I already get the idea; it's night outside.  At which point, unless you're an astronomer, it doesn't usually matter if it's a moon or a mood being blocked by clouds.

The Wii also gave us another new thing; the Metroid Prime 3 video streams.  While this is nice and all, I would prefer for Nintendo to find a way to give me an actual demo.  Especially since the videos shown only make me think that this is another case of the same old game.  It has a new coat of paint on it...but it's a touch up coat of the same damned color.  In other words, when I watch the MP3 videos, I can't help but think of MP1.  It's the same looking game, but with a little more shine to it's visuals.  It's more first person pirate hunting.  It's more of the same crap.  I'm sorry to those of you who may be Metroid Prime fans, but MP just feels like it's been played out right now.  The game needs to either be re-invented (like how MP was supposed to do for Metroid), or maybe...we could...I know it sounds crazy...but treat Metroid with some freakin' respect already and bring us a new METROID game.  I am not saying Metroid Prime.  I'm talking about the real deal that gave us all so many fond memories and amazing characters and weapons.  If Mario could return to 2D (Super Paper Mario), then why can we not do the same with a whole new 2D Metroid on the Wii?  I know I'd buy it in an instant.

On the other hand of the consoles desiring my returned love, the 360 has some nice presents in store for me.  As I type, I'm still downloading, so I don't know how these are, yet.  However, there are some potentially fun demos.

First off is Eternal Sonata.  Considering the J-RPG look to it, the fact that it's an RPG (which I'm hungry for), and since it's from Namco-Bandai (the masters who've given us the Tales series...and the f$#@ers who allowed Xenosaga and Baiten Kaitos to haunt the gaming world...can't win them all), I'm excited.  I just hope this game gets a more playable of demo than Blue Dragon got.  In fact, I hope this is more of the Final Fantasy VII style of demo (and FF8 for that matter).  I'm talking about a demo that let's you play the beginning of the game.  If a game is good, then it should not be afraid of showing it's true colors by giving the gamer it's true experience.  Best of all, it would be cool if the demo allowed the gamer to play the first chapter of the game and then save at the end and use this save to jump ahead when he/she buys the actual retail game.  Now that would be sweet.  Of course, I haven't played the demo yet, so who knows?  Obviously not me.

The 360 also has a demo out for Stranglehold.  I have no idea of good or bad this is, but I know I've been hyped about this game for a couple of years now (well, a year and a half).  So, without a doubt, I can expect to be disappointed.  It's not to say that the demo will be bad, and it's not to say that the final game will be bad.  However, with how hyped I am, and how awesome Hard Boiled was as a movie, I cannot expect my fantasies to be fulfilled on this one.  It's like being a kid and begging for some awesome toy as a birthday present.  Then the day finally comes and you get something else.  No matter how awesome the other gift is, the odds of you being happy with it, as a kid, is almost non-existent.  I want to like Stranglehold, but I know what's coming...and it's not what I've imagined for so long.  However, I need to wait for the demo to fully download to know for sure.

Last of all, and most exciting to me, if the BioShock demo.  Considering BioShock comes along in just a week, and that I am thinking of dual-booting Vista to allow for me to use this game in DirectX 10 mode on my PC, I am excited.  Also, by being the spiritual successor of System Shock (1 and 2), you know good things are in store with this game.  True, I hate to try the demo on the 360 when I have a sweet gaming rig of a PC to play the retail version, but it's the easiest choice for me right now.  Why?  Until I have my dual-boot of Vista ready, I won't have DX10, and thus it's pointless for me, at this time, to even think about the PC version.

I'll know more about these demos in a short while.  I think my downloads are all done.  However, I want to post now and play later.  If I tried the demos first and then posted, I run too much of a risk of not posting and procrastinating as the games consume me and my will to do anything constructive.  So, on that happy note, time to be unproductive!


Malik (8/15/07)

Since I have three days of posts left for this week and I spent some time with three demos from Live, I'll keep things organized (for once).  I'll cover one of the demos each day for the rest of the week.  Since I like to end things on a positive note, I'll start with what I considered the worst of the lot (and this will not win me any friends);


I was beyond hyped about this game.  Holy shit, I was getting excited about making a dual-boot of Vista so I could take advantage of DirectX 10 just for this game.  While I understand that a 360 demo is not a good tool to judge some parts of a game that also appears on the PC, there are some lessons you can walk away with from a cross platform demo.  In particular, the plot, setting, themes, and basic concepts of a game.  As well as how you can understand the tool sets involved (weapons, etc) that will be key to survival and conquest within a game.

First off, however, my game play thoughts, based off of the 360 version (this does not apply to the prospects of the PC least there's hope that it doesn't).  The controls are shit.  I wish I could wrap it up in some sort of euphemism and sound more upbeat, but I really can't.  I tried to turn the sensitivity up and down to many extremes, and I kept thinking one thing; I feel like I'm eternally in water while playing BioShock.  You move both slow (to start) and fast (until you stop).  There's no simple fluidic movement.  While this could be compensated for, by the player, as you get accustomed to the game, it will never allow the precision that you need for this style of FPS.  I doubt the PC version will face this issue for one important reason; mouse.  The mouse should be used in a constant movement ratio while an analogue stick has to have some sort of compensation for the lack of a mouse's precision.

However, my main annoyances with BioShock come down to two things.  The first being how many media outlets kept calling BioShock the spiritual successor to System Shock.  System Shock was on the the greatest examples of innovation in a FPS engine that the world has ever seen, along side with Deus Ex and Thief.  System Shock 2 even continued this with further innovation.  The franchise was on fire in all the right ways.  What about BioShock?

BioShock is not in the same world as System Shock, it doesn't use the same abilities, it's a whole new engine, it's a whole new hero, it's a whole new game style, it''s a whole different game.  However, the spiritual successor thing can still happen despite these changes.  It's been done before.  However, BioShock has as much in common with System Shock as FEAR has with System Shock.  In fact, I think that's the best comparison I can think of since BioShock feels like another FEAR.

Basically, you have a very spooky (or attempted to be spooky) setting of an underwater city, set in the 1960's.  This city was the base for a megalomaniac who desired to make a utopian city in which hard work was the way to achieve success and rewards.  Meanwhile, the main character (Jack, I think would be his name...but it could be "generic hero 132") is on a plane flying across the Atlantic Ocean.  Suddenly, the plane crashes, and for some reason, Jack survives and is unharmed.  As far as I can tell, no one else stood a chance.  That's not a stretch of my imagination that I see being forced on me.  Luckily, this plane crash is right outside of a lighthouse in the middle of the Atlantic; the sole above ground port for this underwater paradise.  So, being in the ocean and facing death, Jack swims to the lighthouse and finds a submergible bathysphere (pod that goes underwater) and climbs in.  You then get a nifty visual tour of the city; Rapture.  Then you land, and you hear some chatter of two people who are concerned about a stranger (you) coming into Rapture.  Then you see one of these two people get slaughtered by generic horror freak #006 (AKA: a splicer).  It seems that citizens of Rapture use something called "plasmids" (being a scientist for 40 hours a week, I find this word choice hilarious...they use the technology of circular DNA stands?), but I would rather say they use magical science to give themselves magical powers...and I do mean magical powers.  These magical powers somehow created a problem in the formation of mutants bent on killing all normal people in a hope for some sort of specific genetic material (called "Adam")...these mutants are, of course, the splicers.

So, that's the gist of the game's plot.  You're Jack and you're trapped in Rapture.  You're only hope is to work with one other person (who soon communicates with you via a portable radio) in finding an escape of some sort from Rapture...I think.  I couldn't quite tell whether you're out to escape or to save the place.

Now the basics come down to a few things; you're in a very linear (some side trips are possible, but it's as linear as Doom...eventually you have to go through the set check points) game with a lot of forced moments of pseudo-horror.  There's also the fact that only two things effect the game (in terms of how you survive); weapons (from blunt to heavy firepower) and magic/plasmids (telekinesis, combusting foes, electrical bursts, blah, blah).  While weapons use ammo, as one would expect, plasmids use a magic meter.  Ammo you find on the ground and on fallen foes, while your magic meter requires special syringes to refill it.  However, in reality, magic is nothing more than another weapon slot that can hold seven or so weapons and they all use a single type of ammo.  There is no real difference, when you consider the blurred lines made by games like Half-Life 2 (gravity gun), between your selection of plasmids and your weapons.  Beyond weapons and plasmids, there's almost nothing else to assist you're survival.  You do get items to carry on you that refill health and magic on the fly, but you don't get any advantage of stealth, and sense of growth in Jack, or anything else that sets this game, in any way, apart from FEAR or Doom 3.

The final annoyance for me is that you must check your fallen foes for items.  You cannot just walk up to a foe's body and magically pick up all items.  You have to manually select to take things from a corpse.  However, unlike some games that have this method for item collection, there's no reason, ever, to not pick up everything.  The only slight exception is that you can only hold a set number of plasmids at a time.  However, those are not what you find on a fallen foe, so that doesn't matter.

In the end, BioShock is nothing more than FEAR or Doom 3, with a different (and slightly shinier) coat of paint on the final product.  It's a generic horror FPS that really offers NOTHING new.  No stealth, no growth, no experience, so selections of character skill trees, no special skills, no...well, unless you say guns, gun-like magic, or repeated series of enemy combat in a supposedly spooky setting, then it's "no" everything else.

Plus, the only real feeling of horror I had in this forced "spooky" setting was from one moment at the end of the demo; the horror I had when I thought that I could've wasted $50+ on this game if I hadn't gone ahead with downloading the demo.  Now that would be scary...especially with how many good games and coming soon and how much money it will take to get through the next 5 months.

So, while this leaves me probably angering some geeks, I just ask that anyone who's wanting a new System Shock to try out BioShock before you buy it.  It may not sound good of me to say it, but System Shock 3 this sure as hell is not.


P.S.  Tomorrow: Eternal Sonata

Malik (8/16/07)

Eternal Sonata is supposed to be my subject matter for today.  It's the second of the three latest Live demos I played for a soon to be released game.  So, since I don't like to deviate from a good plan (as opposed to an average plan, which I'd butcher in about five second flat), let's take a look at this game.

First off, Namco-Bandai has made some really good RPGs.  They've also made some I'd prefer to forget and act as if they never existed.  In the first set, above all else, Namco has brought us Katamari Damacy (and it's sequels) as well as the Tales series of RPGs.  These represent two of the greatest franchises I know of in the gaming world.  However, Namco is also the company that has brought us RPGs in the Xenosaga franchise (to Namco's credit, they probably expected greater things from the crew that jumped Square's boat and formed Monolith) as well as Baten Kaitos (once again, the blame may be on the hands of Monolith...does Namco even check what they're development studios are even up to?)...sorry, but card based console RPGs are a plague on the gaming world and need a good dose of virtual ciprofloxacin.

At least Eternal Sonata is not from Monolith and doesn't use cards (despite being from tri-Cresendo (one of the Baten Kaitos people).  It's more in line with a Tales game than BK or Xenosaga.  It's a game based on cell shaded visuals with nicely Japanese feeling visuals.  In other words, from a visual standpoint, ES has a good start on what could make a good RPG.  Also, from the little part of the demo that the player gets to go through, you have nicely sized towns (assuming from the one town in the demo), characters with fun dialogue to read through, no over abundance of voice acting (voicing characters can be good...but only once a good talent pool is found for video game voice...besides Mark Hamill, who's a voice acting whore who takes any job for a buck it seems...I kid...he's a good voice actor), and ES includes a menu system that shows a good level of promise.

That last part, about menus, is important.  For one thing, your characters, as seen by menus, can equip weapons and armors (something that somehow is lacking from some RPGs and is usually sorely missed).  For another, you have an easy to use system that's quick and friendly on the player, unlike some games that seem to have issues with making menu choices smoothly (like Enchanted Arms failed to do).  It is a small thing, but a good menu is vital for a game that relies more of menu UI than on any other single aspect of the game.

However, there is one other important type of interaction in an RPG, and this is where I go from enjoying ES to completely loathing it; battles.  The only way I can think of describing the battles of ES is by calling the game "RPG-lite".  The battles consist of only one visible statistic per PC; HP.  You have no magic (you can use special moves infinitely) and no other important stats at the start of a conflict.  You lose your HP and you're done.  That's it.  However, some complexity does show it's face...or at least it looks like complexity until you try it once and it's obviousness and worthlessness earns the RPG-lite title.

Each round, you manually move your character.  You have to move to where the enemies are, unless you have a long range attack, in order to attack.  Once you're within striking range, you mash the A button to attack.  You will mash like a mad man.  When you score a hit, the game keeps track of it.  For each successive attack, you gain a combo star.  When you perform a special move, your supply of combo stars (as shared by the whole party of three) is depleted.  The more stars you have when you hit the special button, the more power that comes from the special ability.  All the while, you are acting under a timer.  So, after a set amount of time (~5 seconds), the current character is done and the next character (PC or enemy) goes for ~5 seconds.  This is how turns are set up and how they are carried out.

Each turn can be any combination of attacks, specials, item usage, or moving that you want, assuming you get it all done in five seconds.  So, you do have a little pinch of strategy as you make sure to do what you want, and to finish the turn in the position/place you want.

The last important feature of combat is the light and dark areas of the field.  Each character has two special attacks, one light and one dark.  If you're standing in a shadow (from a tree canopy overhead, or whatever else you have) then you perform a dark based special when you hit the B button.  If you're in a sunny area, then B will release your light based special attack.  This means that, at any given time, you only have two potential choices for special attacks in a battle; light or dark.  For some, this will be a choice of offense versus defense, and for others it will be a choice of one offensive attack or another.  In the end, however, your battle options are really quite limited.

True, you can worry about position in battle, since you want to keep your weaker party members away from the more damaging of foes.  True, you also have the standard idea that being attacked from behind is worse than taking a hit head on.  You can even use the defense button (B) during the enemy turn to protect against hits, if you time pressing it correctly.

However, if you are reading through all of those battle details, then there's two other things you must know.  The first is that this is it for combat.  There is no other special features to really make the game stand out (at least there isn't in the demo).  You can potentially take pictures of the enemy using one character's special (does not consume stars) and sell these pictures (in doesn't come into play in the demo) in a shop.  The other thing you must know, and can probably tell, is that this is a button mashing game.  You want to score hits quickly to earn combo stars.  You want to hit enemies quickly since there's no penalty for many hits in a row (you don't charge attacks).  You want to hit a lot so that you can kill as many foes per turn as possible.  You want to get...well, you just want to button mash like a mad man.

So, what does this all mean?  It means that you'll get pretty damned sick of this battle system in a hurry.  There are some minor tweaks to effect how combat works (like one option lets the timer stop if you stop moving or acting), and there are new items and equipment to find.  However, there is nothing to change the fact that you'll button mash and that you'll face a lot of fights and not nearly as much variety.

I could see this game being fun to watch the story of.  I can also see the game being a nice fix for a JRPG fan who needs a fix.  However, that can be said about Blue Dragon.  The difference between these two games (which both come out in the next few weeks, and on the same console) from their demos is this; ES will have a very boring battle system that never really pushes the player to come up with anything fresh or new.  While BD has a very slow combat system (reminds me of the speed of playing FF1 on the NES), it will still offer multiple special skills and different strategies for different playing styles.  That's why, for my much needed JRPG fix needs, I'm going to just pretend Eternal Sonata is not in the picture.  I don't have the time or money to waste on another battle system that will not give me any real pleasure.

So, to keep score on these new demos and on upcoming releases;

BioShock: FEAR/Doom 3 clone.  Maybe a bargain bin title in a year.

Blue Dragon (Old Demo): Slow JRPG with a lot of variety.  Battles will be painfully slow, but it should give a good enough experience to merit at least a 7.5/10.

Eternal Sonata: RPG-lite.  Button mashing hell with a potential for an awesome visual experience and maybe a great plot.  However, the battle system will not last as long as the game's length.  Sound track is pretty nice, however.

John Woo's Stranglehold: That's a story for another tomorrow.


Malik (8/17/07)

For the final part of this weeks examination of the latest 360 Live demos, I will look at Stranglehold.  I won't get quite as in depth this time around.  In part, because there isn't too much to say.  On the other hand, I'm short on time.  After spending the better part of today working on expanding my cable jacks in my home, working on moving light fixtures, checking out moss issues with my roof (thankfully, there were none), and dealing with Comcast fixing some of their past mistakes, I simply am short on time this afternoon.

Anyway, Stranglehold left me with one immediate impression; this game is like a banana split.  It's empty calories.  There is really no quality substance to this game.  It doesn't give you a game experience that you couldn't get from anything else (in particular, Max Payne).  However, it does the Max Payne imitation rather well.  It's a fun game to play and it's simple to pick up and get the basics of the controls down.  You have the basic idea of MP in how you shoot a lot of bullets, keep picking up new weapons and all that jazz, and most of all the use of Tequila time or something like that (Stranglehold lingo for bullet time).  However, despite being a re-hash of MP, the game is also addictive as hell to play.

The largest difference versus MP is how the environments of Stranglehold are very fun to interact with.  You can simply run and dive your way through the whole demo level.  If you want fun, however, you can run up railings or slide down them, while in a special mode that will toggle bullet time if a foe enters your line of fire.  You can also blow up propane tanks and destroy some doors, walls, and sources of cover with a barrage of fire.  You can even hit some foes so that they slam into a wall and the wall will take damage from the impact.  Hell, you can find a push cart, jump on it, and slide across the area while picking off foes in a cool looking pose.  You can interact with just about anything presented to you.  If there's a group of enemies under a sign, why not shoot the sign and let that take out your problems?  That's easy to do.

You also get a few Tequila Bombs.  These are your special moves that run off of a special meter that fills as you do outlandish and impressive kills.  These Bombs include healing (to keep the action flowing), shooting everyone around you in a spin attack (along with the visuals of slow motion and doves, ala John Woo), and sniping a specific location of a foe in a bullet timed zoomed in sequence.  However, without these abilities, all you'd have is another Max Payne.

The most important difference versus MP is the story.  The story, as told with some amazing visuals (looks almost like a movie at times) and audio (including real voice acting), is a direct continuation of the exploits of Tequila (the hero of the movie Hard Boiled).  You have Chow Yun Fat playing the lead role, again, along with the direction of John Woo.  It is obvious that they are involved, as the plot and acting are definitely a few steps above the average movie inspire game.  Most importantly, for those who have not seen Hard Boiled (you poor deprived souls), the story is full of the same style of action, comedy, and really cheesy drama found in the original.

So, in the end, this game is nothing more than an empty calorie of a game.  It's not a great game, it's not innovative, and it's not something that would normally be worth considering.  However, I know I HAVE to get this game and beat it over and over again.  Without a doubt, this is my favorite of the recent 360 demos.  This is the cream of the crop, so to speak.  I've even beat the demo three or more times in a row, just because I had to.

On a final note for the week, I have read more about BioShock.  I am getting more interested in each new thing I read.  In particular, the parts on shown in the demo (such as crafting of tonics, and the manipulation of your environment through hacking).  It sounds like I may have just had a bad experience because of the limited scope of the demo and because the 360 controls are complete ass.  Maybe the PC controls will respond correctly.

On the other hand, the more I see of BioShock (commercials, trying to play it again, trailers, etc), the more I don't want to see anymore.  It sounds like there's a good game in there, but it also looks like it's actually the offspring of some awesome ideas and some really lame ass concepts.  Not to mention, the action looks bland (and felt that way in the demo), and it seems like another game that just uses the FPS genre to string along players in an attempt to fulfill some pseudo-metaphysical journey.  However, if I wanted something to fill me with metaphysical enlightenment, I would look in a good direction.  Not The Matrix, BioShock, or any other modern attempt to "enlighten".  I would look to some real wisdom, insights, and entertainment that doesn't not try to show the wickedness of man's folly and all that crap.  Also, these non-preachy and intellectual things do exist, but are few and far apart.

Maybe I'll check out BioShock better when one of my friends inevitably gets it.  However, I'm not expecting much of my impression to change.  It's a mindless game that's trying to be anything but mindless.  Not what I need when some good pure entertainment is on it's way.


For Those Who Don't Have Flash Plug-Ins...

Rested XP    News    Reviews    Videos    Features    Forums    Archives    Search This Site    Links    Contact Us    Disclaimer

Non-Flash Links At Bottom Of Page